Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Polynesian Ground-Dove: Alive but Critically Endangered

The Polynesian Ground-Dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera), thanks to the spread of the Black and Polynesian rats, domestic cats and loss of habitat, like a number of the compatatively few species of birds that reached what is now French Polynesia, is critically endangered. The total world population is estimated by Birdlife International at 100-200 individuals, equating to 70-130 mature individuals. Importantly, many of the populations on the atolls on which they survive are very small.

Rangiroa is the largest atoll in French Polynesia, 80 km long and 32 km at its widest. One motu (island) of the four hundred and odd was cleared of rats in 2005. The Société d'Ornithologie de Polynésie (MANU) have been ringing (banding) and monitoring the ground-doves there in recent years, as part of their efforts to conserve this species and its habitat.

On 4 November 2009, MV Clipper Odyssey entered the lagoon and moored near the passage through the reef and the inhabited motus. We there there on a Noble Caledonia Expedition Cruise around French Polynesia. Brent Stephenson, was ornithologist on board and had arranged for five of us to be picked up from the ship by Hugo in his fast (and rat-free) boat after breakfast. After about 50 minutes with the outboards at full throttle we reached the rat-free motu (actually two) and waded ashore. The air and trees were full of nesting sea-birds.

A short search in the undergrowth soon revealed a ringed male ground-dove — a bird seen by Brent on an earlier visit — unconcernedly searching the litter for food. Here is part of the video I took that morning:

We emerged from the undergrowth and waded to the adjoining motu as Bristle-thighed Curlews (Numenius tahitiensis) appeared on the coral and sand at the edge of the lagoon. These are the birds that  fly for over 6000 km non-stop to reach their breeding ground in Alaska and then do the reverse trip to spend the northern winter on Pacific islands from Micronesia to French Polynesia.

We saw three ground-doves — all males and the speculation was that the females were incubating.

It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the islands to get back to the ship. As we walked back to the boat, one of our party said, We are just so privileged to have seen this spectacle of what the whole of French Polynesia must once have been like. There was complete agreement.

Bottle-nosed dolphins joined the boat as we crossed the lagoon and, yes, we were late for lunch.

A different male Polynesian Ground-dove

A view from the lagoon side of the motu. Waves can be seen breaking
between motus on the reef

In 2011 nine ground-doves were found at this site by MANU.

MANU are making great efforts in conservation in French Polynesia. They deserve great praise and support. Their website is at:

Information on the Polynesian Ground-dove can be fund at:

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Donors of Reptiles to London Zoo 1915: 2. John C Dendy

In the last post I described what I had found on Albert L de Lautreppe. This week, it is the turn of John C Dendy.

This is what Clin Keeling wrote:

All I know about Master J.C. Dendy (as he was described in the Occurrences Book) was that he lived at Vale Lodge, Vale of Health, Hampstead, London N.W.1, that he kept a large herpetological collection and that, on 16th July 1915, he presented it to the Society. It comprised Chicken, Wolf’s [sic], Tessalated [sic], Dark-green, Say’s, King, Aesculapian and Corn Snakes, Seps (a primitive skink believed by the Arabs of North Africa to be poisonous, in fact the word “septic” is derived from its name), Green and Six-lined Lizards, Horned “Toads”, two terrapins, and Edible Frogs. As I say this is all I have to go on, but I rather suspect he was a public school boy who, adding a few non-existent years to his age, had decided to go to war — a state of affairs by no means rare in the early stages of the conflict — and such evidence that there is suggests he did not come back.

Well, John C Dendy was clearly John Cantaned Dendy, the then 15 year-old son of Professor Arthur Dendy (1865-1925), Professor of Zoology at King's College, London. At the 1911 Census, the family was living in Weybridge, Surrey.

Arthur Dendy, with a degree from what became the University of Manchester, worked on sponges collected by the Challenger Expedition at the British Museum (Natural History), then at the University of Melbourne, Canterbury College, New Zealand (where John C was born) and Capetown, South Africa, before being appointed to the Chair at King's in 1905. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1908. Although his main work was on sponges and planarians (he collected extensively in Australia in New Zealand), he also worked on Peripatus and on the development of the Tuatara (Sphenodon). There are a number of websites covering Arthur Dendy (his obituary was in Proceedings of the Royal Society B 99 xxxiii-xxxv, 1926):

Arthur Dendy FRS

But what of John, born circa 1901 in New Zealand, who donated his collection to the Zoo at the age of 15? I can find no evidence of any involvement in the First World War or that he failed to survive. Indeed, his father's obituary states that he settled in South Africa. One of his journeys can be seen in the shipping lists available on family history websites. He and his wife arrived at Southampton in December 1949 from Captetown and returned four months later. His employment is shown as farmer. Did he retain an interest in reptiles while farming in South Africa? Was his early enthusiasm for reptiles gained from his father who worked on reptiles on New Zealand and in South Africa?

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Donors of Reptiles to London Zoo 1915: 1. Albert L de Lautreppe

Clinton Keeling (1932-2007) in the later years of his life published a number of his own books on the history of zoos and the keeping of wild animals in captivity. He often referred to the books kept by London Zoo which listed the daily happenings. The books provide more than a glimpse into social history as well as the history of the Zoo and the Zoological Society of London.

In one of his books, A Short History of British Reptile Keeping, published in 1992, he referred to a few of the donors of reptiles and amphibians to the Zoo and bemoaned the fact that only in a few cases had he been able to trace who those donors where and what became of them. These are extracts from his book:
In my book They All Came Into The Ark I mentioned a number of people who had deposited reptiles and amphibians at the London Zoological Garden during the period covered by the first world war, and I can see no great harm in doing so again here, perhaps in a little more detail… 
...Albert L. de Lautreppe, 1 Ravenna Road, Putney, London S.W. presented quite a large collection of lizards (Horned Toads…) and terrapins - particularly Diamond-backs. 
All I know about Master J.C. Dendy (as he was described in the Occurrences Book) was that he lived at Vale Lodge, Vale of Health, Hampstead, London N.W.1, that he kept a large herpetological collection and that, on 16th July 1915, he presented it to the Society. It comprised Chicken, Wolf’s [sic], Tessalated [sic], Dark-green, Say’s, King, Aesculapian and Corn Snakes, Seps (a primitive skink believed by the Arabs of North Africa to be poisonous, in fact the word “septic” is derived from its name), Green and Six-lined Lizards, Horned “Toads”, two terrapins, and Edible Frogs. As I say this is all I have to go on, but I rather suspect he was a public school boy who, adding a few non-existent years to his age, had decided to go to war — a state of affairs by no means rare in the early stages of the conflict — and such evidence that there is suggests he did not come back.

The history of keeping reptiles and amphibians in captivity has received little attention, particularly in the private, i.e. non-zoo, sector. I was intrigued by Clin’s examples and realised that by using a combination of genealogical sources and Google, of course, it should be possible to uncover more about the donors than Clin had managed. I chose the above extracts because on these cases I have been able to shed more light.

Albert L de Lautreppe

Lautreppe’s story starts easily enough but then gets more complicated.

He arrived in London on 14 January 1915 from New York, a 1st class passenger on S.S. Minneapolis. He had entered the U.S.A. from Mexico at El Paso, Texas on 5 December 1914. Lautreppe is shown as being 58, a mining engineer of French nationality and a permanent resident of France. Incidentally, the S.S. Minneapolis had only just returned to her Atlantic run after transporting the British Expeditionary Force to France at the outbreak of the First World War. In February 1915, she returned to military transport, and was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat in the Mediterranean on 23 March 1916.

All the reports show that Lautreppe was a mining engineer and a plant- and animal-collecting naturalist who operated first in Peru and then Mexico. I think we can assume that he acquired the lizards and terrapins in Mexico and the U.S.A. or the U.S.A. as he travelled to New York. On this occasion, he had been in Mexico since 1914. He was en route to Mexico when he arrived from Le Havre in New York on S.S. La Lorraine on 13 April 1914.

We find him also crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. in 1906.

There are a number of references to his plant collecting and of specimens arriving at the New York Botanical Garden. In the botanical literature he is listed as a collector from 1902 to 1905 in Mexico and Peru. Examples of references to him are:
Mr Albert de Lautreppe who was commissioned last year to obtain material for the Garden during his visit to Peru on a mining errand, has recently returned, bringing with him a notable collection of small cacti which have mostly been incorporated into the public series— in conservatory house No 5, a considerable number of other living plants and over two hundred packets of seeds which have been sown in the propagating houses. He also secured some herbarium specimens, principally of lichens. Journal of the New York Botanical Garden, volume 3, 1902.
Plants for the conservatories from Chihuahua and Rio Balsa, Mexico. Journal of the New York Botanical Garden, volume 5, 1904.
The average rainfall of Zacatecas for the past ten years, as stated by Mr Albert L. de Lautreppe, who has made a special study of the weather records in connection with his business venture...U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry, Bulletin 102, 1907.

The following are from Addisonia (New York Botanical Garden), volume 1, 1916.

Lautreppe clearly had an interesting time in Peru. An article syndicated to a number of U.S. newspapers in 1902, dealing with the financing of rubber ventures by J.P Morgan and his associates in South America, discussed the border conflicts between Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. It continued: 
But Peru has a plan to get in far ahead of them all and build a railroad that shall tap the rich country and carry its products to the Pacific Coast over the mountains.
To ascertain the best route, that nation commissioned a French engineer, Albert de Lautreppe, of Paris, to explore the country and find a road. He led an expedition and reported that the plan was feasible.
Now he has arrived in New York with remarkable news. He found immense rivers spanned by wonderful bridges made of basket work by the natives. More remarkable than all, he found tribes of cannibal Indians, whose boast was that they would never allow white men to pass through their country. By diplomacy and generous presents he managed to win, if not their friendship, at least suffererance, and he reached his objective point after many dangers but without being harmed.
The long article goes on to describe his encounter with the tribes and ends with the following paragraphs:

De Lautreppe says tha he can not tell why they permitted his party to cross their territory alive. “the Chunchos,” he says, “told us that they had massacred three white men in Carabaya just before we arrived. Just why we escaped trouble I can not explain, as they were entirely fearless and our firearms caused them neither surprise nor alarm. Somehow we had the luck to a peace which neither of us broke. It may be they were convinced that we were not after their women, which seems to be a great cause of tribal wars there. Most tribes are short of women, and, therefore, they raid each other frequently.” 
All the tribes that he found exist solely by hunting and rove over great extents of territory. De Lautreppe says that the country throughout shows evidence of great wealth in gold, and that Peru can open it by building less than 400 miles of railroad, part of which, indeed, is already under construction.
Lautreppe also patented inventions. For example:
Albert Le Cocq de Lautreppe, a citizen of France and a resident of New York ...have invented certain new and useful improvements in Stills. U.S. Patent 744367, 17 November 1903.
After the war, on 19 June 1919, he was granted a patent in London for an invention submitted on 29 May 1917. Wireless control of distant apparatus. Improved means of controlling movement in two directions from a distance (GB 127848). The example in the patent is the control of a rudder by radio. Shades of drones to come.

One and the Same Person?

Things now get more complicated. In a letter from Vailima, his house on Upolu in Samoa, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:
We have two guests in the house, Captain-Count Wumbrand and Monsieur Albert de Lautreppe. Lautreppe is awfully nice — a quiet gentlemanly fellow. Gonfle de Reves, as he describes himself — once a sculptor in the atelier of Henry Crosse, he knows something of art and is really a resource to me.
The question is, of course, whether this Lautreppe, the former sculptor, is our Lautreppe, the mining engineer and naturalist, in later life. I strongly suspect that he is since the writer S.R. Lysaght (1856-1941) describes visiting Vailima on Easter Sunday 1894 and meeting Lautreppe, a French naturalist [my emphasis]:
At dinner in the evening, when all the household was assembled, Mrs Stevenson and Mrs Strong, Lloyd Osborne and Count Wurmbrand, a charming and cultivated Austrian soldier acting at the time as chief cowherd on the Stevenson Farm, with the addition on one or two occasions of M. de Lautreppe, a French naturalist on a visit to the island, a delightful companion, we were a merry and odd-looking party. The Living Age, Boston, 10 January 1920.
Gonfle de Reves which, I think, translates as 'inflated dreams' implies that he had tried to be a sculptor and now did something different.

Robert Louis Stenvenson only survived a few months after this visit; he died on 3 December 1894.

Vailima in 2008, Robert Louis Stevenson's House in Samoa

Vailima is good for seeing wildlife. This skink is I think Emoia nigra
and the Flat-billed Kingisher (Todirhamphus recurvirostris) can be found
in the tress surrounding the lawns.
It would also seem that our Lautreppe is also the author of an article on American Samoa: Our Samoa Station. The Island of Tutuila, The Latest Acquisition of the United States in the Pacific. This was published in Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, July 1900, and a summary appeared on several U.S. newspapers at the time. He also had an article on Samoa in the French periodical, L’Illustration, in 1898.

The only reference to a sculptor Lautreppe I have found is in L. Farrer’s Biographical Dictionary of Medallists volume 3, published by Spink and Son in 1907. Felicien William Albert Le Coq de Lautreppe, pupil of Henry Cros, exhibited a medallion depicting Sir William Gladstone at the Salon in 1883.

The last reference I can find to Albert Le Coq de Lautreppe is his arrival in New York (aged 62 years, 3 months) with his wife, Olga (61 years, 10 months) on 28 February 1919 from Le Havre on S.S. Rochambeau.

There are other possible references in the U.S. newspapers to Lautreppe. M. Le Coq Lautreppe organised talks on French songs with an accompanying singer. When he cancelled the event, the singer displayed great and public outrage at her treatment.

Lautreppe had presented animals to the zoo before 1915. A very incomplete search shows that on 25 September 1893 (remember he was, if it is the same Lautreppe, in Samoa on Easter Sunday — March 25th — 1894) he gave the zoo the gerbil, Gerbillus longifrons from Tunis (now included in Meriones crassus, Sundevall’s Jird) and Long-tailed Field Mouse (Mus [Apodemus] sylvaticus). Since the latter also occurs in north Africa, I would imagine he thought he had something less common than a species that could be caught in Regent’s Park.

Finally, and before dealing with Master Dendy in the next post, why did he collect and donate animals to London Zoo and why, in 1915, was he staying at 1 Ravenna Road, Putney? In the 1911 Census, 1 Ravenna Road was divided into flats. Was he staying in one of the flats on his return from Mexico in 1915? Was his stay in London connected with the patent application for a radio-controlled rudder? Help is needed from a French genealogist to take the story any further.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Tubenoses and Salt Glands: Up to a Point Mr Packham

Chris Packham, in BBC’s Springwatch Guide to Sea Birds, discussed the tubular extensions to the nostrils of petrels (Procellariiformes). He repeated the common explanation that they serve to remove secretion from the salt glands, adding that otherwise the salt solution would fall on the feathers. They certainly do act as conduits for salt-gland secretion. Shortly after Knut Schmidt-Nielsen discovered salt glands, he wrote an article in 1959 for Scientific American illustrated by a photograph showing salt gland secretion being blown from the tubular nostrils of a petrel.

The late Jim Linzell and I repeated this explanation and reproduced the photograph in our 1975 monograph, Salt Glands in Birds and Reptiles. However, I recall that we both had qualms on whether removal of salt-gland secretion was a real explanation for the evolution of tube noses. Of course, the secretion will come out that way and blowing the secretion out would keep the air channels clear (some species have separate channels in the nostrils for air and secretion). However, other marine and potentially marine birds that have operative salt glands manage perfectly well without tubular extensions. Because we had no other explanation for the adaptation we concluded:

Continuous flight may hamper the flow of fluid from the nostrils because of the current of air over this region and the tubular extensions through which the fluid can be blown by a forced expiration could well act in the way Schmidt-Nielsen suggested.

We did not know then that sea birds have remarkable powers of olfaction and that they use it to detect their prey in the open ocean.

It has been suggested that the tubes serve to direct the current of air to the olfactory epithelium. But is there something special about the tubular arrangement in addition? Does it help in some way to find the direction the odour of prey is coming from while birds fly a zig-zag pattern towards the source? Has anybody looked at the patterns of air flow in the nostrils of birds with and without tubular extensions?

You can see the tubular extensions in this young Murphy's Petrel
(Pterodroma ultima). I photographed this chick on Ducie Atoll in the
Pitcairn Islands on 24 October 2010

So, if I were revising Salt Glands in Birds and Reptiles today, I would point out that salt-gland secretion is blown from the tubular extension to the nares but add that the morphological adaptation is more likely to reflect the survival advantage of an improved efficiency of olfaction rather than of extra-renal excretion.

Schmidt-Nielsen, K. (1959) Salt glands. Scientific American 200, 109-116.

Peaker, M. & Linzell, J.L. (1975). Salt Glands in Birds and Reptiles. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

Remarkably, I find our monograph was re-published as a paperback by CUP in 2009 (ISBN:9780521112031) and is available from their website: